The Neosho High School’s FFA agronomy team earned fourth place at the 87th National FFA Convention and Expo in Louisville, Ky., last week.

The Neosho High School’s FFA agronomy team earned fourth place at the 87th National FFA Convention and Expo in Louisville, Ky., last week.

Teammates Kaitlyn Hancock, Lindsey Parmley, Jilli Raner and Mary Kate Roark tout their coaches for catapulting them to success.

“Agronomy is basically the study of plants, seeds and how to best take care of your plants if you owned a farm or greenhouse,” said Parmley. “(Also) how not to make mistakes.”

She said the national competition included a very involved identification of plants, seeds and the machinery that is used to plant and harvest crops.

“We had to identify the bugs that could eat or harm or help your plants,” Parmley said. “We had to identify the diseases that can kill them. And then we went through, did grain grading, like if we were buying grain from somebody and we had to find out if it had any weeds in there, if it wasn’t good, what type it was.”

She said they had to assume the role of a crop specialist who could explain to a farmer what is happening to his crops as far as pests, and then how to maintain the crops. Parmley said soil tests were also a part of the competition.

“Where we had to tell them how much fertilizer they need to put back into the soil to grow a certain crop,” she said.

Parmley said a general knowledge test of 50 questions covering the entire United States included determining the age of soil, judging alfalfa hay, vegetables and more.

“We also did a team presentation, where we had to do a three-year rotation on the plant and we had to figure it all up and make sure we had the right numbers,” she said. “Then we had to present it like these people were actually going to hire us to do it.”

Hancock asserted the knowledge obtained in the venture to compete at the national level provided each team member much practical experience. She explained her first inspiration was to become a veterinarian, but once she gained experience in agronomy, she decided to change her focus from animals to plants and to be more involved in scouting fields.

“How we help farmers is, we actually get their problems — agronomists do — and then they tell you what’s wrong with it and what the symptoms are,” Hancock said. “They tell them how to treat it, like what pesticides to use, what herbicides, insecticides, you just tell them what they need to do.”

She said agronomists also look at what crops have been planted in the past, what weeds are becoming resistant and what herbicides a farmer has used.

“Then you can tell them what plants they should plant next year,” Hancock said. “And then different herbicides they can use on those plants to get rid of the ones that are resistant.”

Raner said the team moved through the district competition among schools in this region to earn the invitation to the state FFA convention, where they took 1st place to ascend to the national competition. She said moving from having to know what goes on within the borders of Missouri to acquiring pertinent knowledge about the entire country required much extra study.

“In nationals, we only used about half of what we learned at state,” said Raner. “And it was over double what we had learned from state. So, we had to take what we learned from state, double it and then like double it again to make everything we had to learn for nationals.”

Parmley said the high ranking was somewhat unexpected, as a change of coaches in mid-stream led to much stress for the team; but she counted those coaches as a large reason for reaching such heights.

“Honestly, our coach did,” she said. “During the summer we came in Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 8 and we studied. Then on Saturdays, we came in at 8 a.m. until we got finished with everything.”

Parmley said original coach Brian Scott had to step down for health reasons, and then the supposedly retired long-time ag instructor and FFA advisor Mike Aldrich came to the rescue.

“Mr. ‘A’ really stepped in,” she said. “He retired last year and he had to watch his hours. He has come back, taken us places and he has attempted to learn because they (her ag instructors) have no background knowledge in agronomy. So they have learned step-by-step, then tried to teach us — as well as Mr. (Austin) Steele and Miss T (teacher Jennifer Thogmartin) — and have done everything in their power to help us while attempting to teach. Attempting to get all of our community service projects we’ve been doing, as well, trying to lead a national team that they know absolutely nothing about.”

Going to the national convention under a heavy load of stress, Parmley said the team did not have high expectations.

“We all thought we’d get like 25th place,” she said. “Like that is where we all stuck ourselves. Then they never called our names, never called. We’re in the top 10, and they said, ‘fourth place, Neosho’ and we all just kind of sat there for a minute and just kind of stared at them.”

Raner said the experience of taking fourth place at the national level provides a good grounding for beginning a career in agronomy.

Hancock explained the experience is something to be noted on applications for scholarships and for jobs.

“So if you apply for a job they know that you have at least a little bit of background in the field,” she said.

Parmley said many colleges will look kindly on her success.

“They’ll know that you are serious enough studying for something so major that you are going to be a good student there,” Parmley said. “So they should give you the scholarship. Because they know you’re not just going to blow it away, you may go out and have fun, but you are still going to study as much as you can to get the grades you can.”